Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day 2012

Flickr: Chris and Jenni
When I was a child, I played at war. I had clear red and green water guns. I had realistic-looking old-fashioned guns because my tomboy mother adored playing Cowboys and Indians when she was a girl. My cousin had a replica of the Star Wars lair of Jabba the Hut and light sabers; the brothers of my friends had superhero action figures and GI Joes that would go on adventures with our Barbies.  My parents gave me Diary of a Young Girl; I read Starring Sally J. Friedman as Herself; I watched Casablanca on the TV so I learned some wars were necessary. I read about Troy in my Greek mythology books and learned some wars were not.

Flickr: dalazzarato
My parents met when my father was serving in the military and my mother was working as an administrative assistant on-base. But my consciousness about real war came slowly.  Praying nothing bad would happen when we bombed Libya; getting totally freaked out by The Day After on TV.  When we invaded Iraq in the 1990s, I remember overhearing a conversation between two guys at my high school.  One of the guys was like, "yeah, baby."  And the other guy was like, "thankyouverymuch, it's easy for you to gloat because you can't be drafted because of your asthma, but I'm looking down the barrel my eighteenth birthday soon so shut the fuck up."

I also played at being an anti-war protester during my adolescence.  I loved Hair, so I'd wear tie-dyed T-shirts and sandals and say things like "peace." But it's easy to protest the Vietnam War when the Vietnam is over. I read Hemingway and All Quiet on the Western Front and the poetry of  Wilfred Owen. During the 1990s, there was even talk amongst rational adults about the End of History and a bit of contempt directed towards college students who got a 'free' education because they were members of ROTC.  Because with the USSR gone, there would never be real war, ever again.

For some of my friends and their families, of course, war is not an academic, theoretical, or literary subject. It's about absence--the absence of someone they love who is deployed and at risk. And Memorial Day is, of course, about the ultimate kind of absence.

I know some people find food blogs trivial and decadent and flinch when people post recipes for flag cakes on Memorial Day. 

From what I've read of people who have served, though, many have dreamed of favorite foods when hungry, lost, and alone.

No recipe today, though. I'm not really sure what would be the right thing to make since the subject brings up so many contradictions--I hate war, yet I'm not an utter pacifist because I think it is necessary to prepare for war to preserve peace. I hate the utter annihilation of identity that fighting for a nation or an ideal implies, yet I've loved many books and poetry inspired by the individual souls who have lived through war...and most importantly, I am utterly awed by the sacrifice of those who give up their lives in the name of something larger than the self, whether they fought in a 'good' war--or not.  I don't find war glorious, noble, or admirable, yet I have met many people have embodied those qualities while wearing a uniform. 

Today is about absence, but I don't want to leave you with an image of absence.  Instead, think about a kind of absence that creates some sense of presence...the hole that makes the doughnut...


  1. It's strange to me that we currently have U.S. troops on the ground in several different countries, yet if you don't know someone (or someone who knows someone) in the military, it's not something we really think or talk about anymore. There's surprisingly little news coverage even, except on holidays like today or when something horrendous happens, like the village slaughter in Afghanistan -- and I'm not even sure how much national coverage that got. We heard a fair amount about it here because the accused soldier is stationed out of Lewis-McChord. Maybe it's partly because some of my earlier memories are of seeing really graphic news stories out of Vietnam that it strikes me as strange that you can now watch the average nightly newscast and not even know we're at war.

  2. @Flurrious--it is very strange. A woman I know has a son-in-law in the military, and a college friend of mine served for six years so I am conscious of the fact that our troops are deployed abroad on a personal level. But the coverage of this war, when it occurs, tends to focus on human interest stories (like troops being reunited with their kids or blogging on the front lines). It's odd, because the media is far more omnipresent than in the Vietnam Era, but the coverage is far more bloodless.